Our amazing B’nei Mitzvah students go through their own journeys toward becoming an adult in the Jewish community. Their journey is their own, and as such, they will accomplish different objectives and achieve different milestones along the way. Having said that, there is a core set of prayers and teachings almost everyone learns. One of those teachings is the Shema.
In the Shema we find one of the most crucial teachings in all of Jewish liturgy and learning. The words of the first paragraph of the Shema, found in this week’s parasha proclaim the unity of God as well as declare a deep commitment of faith. These words appear not only in our siddurim, but they are also found in our homes and buildings, as well as in the tefillin we wear when praying. You could say we find ourselves surrounded by them, they are an integral part of our way of life.
These words help to define two very important messages we seek to impart to our children – firstly; God is One, and secondly; you shall love God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might. There are many other messages throughout the Shema that we read each morning and evening, and it is no accident that the text we find in this week’s parasha is found in the first section of the prayer.
The intention is that from the very start, we focus on the message of God’s Oneness, as well as our obligation to love God with all our heart, soul and might. Through instilling this message, we allow (amongst others) our upcoming Jewish adults to develop on this key teaching and find a way for themselves to not only establish themselves as full members of the community, but also to forge a way in their growing and changing lives, to live by these teachings. By understanding how these two concepts connect to each other, as well as how they act as a basis for living a Jewish life through respect and introspection, we help them to develop skills to be model citizens of the community and the world.
There is another, equally important reason why we include the Shema in the list of texts and prayers we ask our students to learn; “Veshinantam L’vanecha” – and you shall teach them to your children. This is one of the key Jewish commitments to education, a responsibility we accept as parents and as teachers, to make sure the words and lessons we teach our children get passed on to the next generation and the next one, and to all the generations that follow.
Through reiterating the importance of “Veshinantam L’vanecha”, we inspire them to not only live by these teachings, but to understand the need and relevance of passing these messages to future generations, by one day teaching their children, allowing them to learn the same messages and lessons, and build their own connection to the Shema and our teachings.
Rev Sam Zwarenstein